Batman: A Death in the Family is one of the most significant storylines in the entire DC Comics history and change the character of Batman and Bruce Wayne forever. Written in 1988 at a controversial time in the Batman timeline as the current Robin, Jason Todd, was an unpopular character and DC needed to think what to do next. Using a telephone phone poll, DC let the readers decide and they narrowly chose the death of Jason Todd. A Death in the Family explores the famous death at the hands of the Joker and the more modern collected editions also include the follow up story A Lonely Place of Dying which shows Batman come to terms with his loss and the introduction of the 3rd Robin, Tim Drake.
Batman: A Death in the Family collects Batman #426-#429 and A Lonely Place of Dying issues Batman #440-#442 and New Titan #60-#61.
|Book Name||Death in the Family|
|Book Series||Batman, New Titans|
|Edition Reviewed||Trade Paperback New Edition|
|Artist(s)||Jim Aparo, George Perez|
|Where to Buy||Amazon|
|Notable Heroes||Batman, Robin (Jason Todd), Superman|
|Chronology Previous||Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth|
Batman: A Death in the Family Review
Jim Starlin’s Batman: A Death in the Family is a significant comic for a number of reasons. The famous installment follows the Dark Knight on one of his darkest adventures yet (despite the comic being in vibrant colour). More specifically, follow Jason Todd on a quest to find himself. The biggest twist of it all? Readers got a say in what happened. The controversial move changed the DC universe forever and had a strong enough impact of the continuity of the Batman storyline that it’s still relevant today and until 2005s Under the Red Hood we never heard of Jason again.
I have nothing but praise for the art. It’s colorful, it’s detailed, and it’s exactly what you should expect from a classic Batman comic. I really love this traditional style as I feel it is not only nostalgic and aesthetically pleasing, but it is really easy to follow and read as well! Jim Aparo really captured the late-80s superhero scene in this work.
Unlike many other installments, this comic puts nearly the entire focus on Robin. Not just any Robin, but Jason Todd. Now, there are a lot of things that separated Jason Todd from his fan-favorite predecessor, Dick Grayson. Granted, his whole oddly specific origin story is pretty similar. (That being the fact he was the son of murdered circus acrobats that was taken into the Wayne Manor). Following the weird events of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Batman: Year One,
His entire personality and style was incredibly different though. He was impulsive, he didn’t listen to orders -frankly, he was just really irritating.
Right in the very opening scene of Batman: A Death in the Family, we see Todd just doesn’t really care about anyone or anything else but himself. Even lectures from the notoriously stern Batman can’t sway him one bit.
“What do you think we’re doing in here? Playing some kind of game?” -Batman
“Of course, all life’s a game.” -Robin
He didn’t take his job seriously and that kind of goes against Batman’s whole image. Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of him and that goes for many other readers at the time. The publishers at DC were very aware of this and took a creative risk by bringing the fans into the mix -which I will go into later.
The 4-issue comic followed Jason Todd’s personal adventure after Bruce relieves him of his Robin title. Jason doesn’t take it too well and shortly after learns that Catherine Todd, the murdered acrobat he believed to be his biological mother wasn’t. Not only that, but he was able to track down his real biological mother to the middle east where he immediately set off to on his own. At the same time, Joker escaped Arkham Asylum and conveniently gets himself a nuclear weapon that he plans to sell to bad guys over in Lebanon.
There in the middle east, Batman and Jason are swiftly reunited and the quest for Jason to find his real mother abroad rages on. This is, it continued on until Joker comes back into the picture. He manages to get ahold of Jason and brutally torture him.
While I am normally not a fan of the convenient plots like this, I can say it really did make for a great setting. I think having the fast-moving plot was a good move on their part to make the participation go a little smoother. This is where the interaction comes in. The comics literally included an ad prompting you to call a number where you can help decide what would happen to the current Robin. Calling one number would let the “Joker fail” and calling the other would let him succeed. It wasn’t even a “Read between the lines sort of situation, it was pretty directly whether or not you wanted Jason Todd killed off.
“Robin will die because of the Joker. He wants revenge, but you can prevent it with a telephone call.”
That being said, around 10,000 calls were placed -each costing about $1 each. The verdict was out and fans literally paid to kill off Jason Todd. While I can’t say I think this was a bad idea -he was actually becoming more likeable. That and I hate seeing Batman depressed because he feels connected to the death of somebody.
It only got worse from there. It was as if the writers were going out of their way to torture Batman. They even brought in Superman to give Batman the news he was not allowed to interfere with the Joker who happened to be the newest member of the UN. I have to say, this was one of the more ridiculous pats of the comic. It just seemed a little too farfetched and extreme for my liking, this was just way too convenient for me. That and I think Superman was a little bit too okay with letting all of the Joker stuff slide. It goes to show the vast differences between them as characters and what they want to protect -very in line with the whole Avengers Civil War stuff.
This part also brought me my favorite quote of the whole book. In response to Superman explaining to Batman why he wasn’t allowed to do anything to the Joker, he had this to say:
“That’s the law, not justice.”
It is the perfect line for every vigilante that has ever graced the comic book universe.
Of course, Batman was right. Not too surprising that the Joker turned and tried to murder everyone there. What I was actually most surprised with was that Superman wasn’t waiting as back-up? Like they seriously didn’t even want to be prepared?
The rest of the story focuses a lot on the emotional toll that this whole ordeal had on Bruce Wayne -and even Dick Grayson. Without spoiling the less famous parts of the book, this comic also introduces us to Tim Drake in the accompanying A Lonely Place of Dying with the new edition collected editions.
The entire comic was an emotional rollercoaster that I imagine was even more gripping for fans back in the 80s when it came out. I cannot imagine the suspense of not knowing whether or not he would have lived. I give this comic a 4/5 because it had a lot of great suspense and plot lines. I wish things were carried out a little smoother, but it was an comic experiment that I think really paid off in the end!
A Death in the Family Image Gallery